In this Dec. 17, 2011, file photo, a scallops is shucked at sea off the coast of Harpswell, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

PORTLAND, Maine — The United States’ scallop catch is likely to decline by more than a fifth in the coming year, federal regulators have said.

The catch is predicted to come in at about 40 million pounds, the New England Fishery Management Council said in a statement. That’s a dip from a projected 51.6 million pounds this year and 60.5 million pounds in 2018.

The scallop fishery has benefited from a very large number of new scallops that began growing in 2012 and 2013, said Janice Plante, a spokesperson for the council. Those scallops are reaching the end of their lives, and that likely means fewer will eventually find their way to the docks, she said.

Despite the likely drop in catch, the scallop fishery remains strong, said Andrew Minkiewicz, a Washington attorney who works with fishing advocacy group Fisheries Survival Fund. The projected catch would still be more than any of the year from 2013 to 2015.

“The demand has been high for scallops, and prices have been good, and they can make up for a drop in catch,” he said.

The shellfish are among the most valuable marine resources in America. The fishery has been worth more than a half-billion dollars at the docks in each of the past three years.

Most of the scallops come to the docks in New England, especially Massachusetts, but many come ashore in New Jersey and Virginia.

It’s too early to say if a drop in catch could change the prices of scallops to consumers. The amount of foreign scallops that are available in the U.S. also plays a role in the price of the shellfish. They’re typically priced around $20 to $25 per pound to consumers in New England.

Regulators are expected to craft rules about the coming fishing year in January. The fishing year for scallops runs from April 1 to March 31.

“There’s a chance the fishery will be scaled back a little bit,” Plante said.

Story by Patrick Whittle.